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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Victims of ransomware attacks who pay criminals to release their data may be held liable for violating U.S. sanctions — even if they don’t know the true identity of their tormentors, advised the Treasury Department in a bulletin last week.

Why it matters: The move could doubly punish the victims of ransomware attacks.

Between the lines: The cyber criminals responsible for major ransomware attacks do not often volunteer their true identities to their victims, and the payment schemes are generally conducted anonymously using cryptocurrency.

  • It’s not just victims who might be subject to civil penalties for paying sanctioned ransomware attackers, says the Treasury, but also “those involved in providing cyber insurance, digital forensics and incident response, and financial services that may involve processing ransom payments.”

Background: The Treasury, through its Office of Foreign Assets Control, sanctions entities and individuals deemed national security threats — including state-linked hackers, terrorists and even transnational cyber criminal groups. Under these sanctions, U.S. persons or businesses are totally forbidden from facilitating or carrying out any financial exchange with these entities.

  • Some of these sanctioned groups, like the Russian cyber criminal syndicate Evil Corp, act generally on their own behalf and are motivated by private profit.
  • But other sanctioned entities, like the Lazarus Group, which is directly connected with North Korean intelligence, use ransomware attacks to pad the coffers of foreign governments.

By the numbers: Reports of ransomware attacks increased 37% from 2018 to 2019, according to the FBI, with a 147% spike in “associated losses” during that period, per the Treasury bulletin.

Go deeper: 🎧 Axios Re:Cap podcast: American health care held for ransom (listen here)

Go deeper

House Armed Services is paying more attention to cybersecurity — after big hack

Rep. Adam Smith. Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith has outlined a plan for his body to improve its oversight of cybersecurity, although experts say suspected Russian cyberattacks show the focus is late in coming.

Why it matters: The alleged Russian penetration of the Pentagon and Treasury Commerce, State, Homeland Security and other departments shows the sweep of digital warfare and the need for an all-hands, all-of-government response.

“You blew it”: GOP activist turns on corporations over vaccine mandates

The chairman of the American Conservative Union said on "Axios on HBO" he accepts "Joe Biden is my president, and I want him to succeed," but predicted Republicans retake the House and Senate in 2022 — with greater than 50% odds Donald Trump runs in 2024.

The big picture: In a joint interview with his wife, Mercedes, Matt Schlapp also refused to share their vaccination status. And he told corporate America "you blew it" by embracing vaccine mandates and liberal social stances that have alienated GOP voters and politicians.

38 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Pelosi expects “billionaire’s tax” to pay for Biden social spending

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday she expects the chamber to pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan by week’s end, and alternatives to corporate tax hikes and a “billionaires tax” will be used to finance President Biden’s promised expansion to the social safety net.

Why it matters: Pelosi’s comments come as House and Senate leaders try to wrap up a deal. What will get cut — and how the remainder will be paid — are linchpins to a final agreement.